James Bond: The world’s most famous Secret Agent

A secret agent? You wouldn’t think so from some of the films, when Bond’s name and reputation appear to be widely known. So, just how did 007 become the world’s most famous secret agent?


The first chapter of Casino Royale is titled The Secret Agent and, in introducing the world to James Bond, Ian Fleming explains the operational background to the mission. Working in France against a local SMERSH operative, Bond is being controlled through Jamaica in the guise of a wealthy businessman to obfuscate his link with London and MI6.

The secret agent

It is a detail that grounds the mission in realism and underlines how much James Bond was working clandestinely, an undercover agent. A secret agent.

In Goldfinger too, it is there. In the first chapter, Reflections in a Double Bourbon, Bond is at Miami airport after a brutal mission. As he contemplates the mission Bond uses alcohol to take the edge off with alcohol in the departure lounge, where a man recognizes him and approaches.

It turns out the man, Julius Du Pont, had been one of the card players in Casino Royale and while he spots him quite legitimately, Bond is spooked by the experience because, as Fleming tells us, he likes his anonymity. He is the hidden man.

It is true though that Bond is not particularly careful in disguising his habits. As his SMERSH dossier reveals in From Russia, With Love, although the Russians have just four photographs of him of varying quality, the distinguishing triple gold band on his Morland cigarettes is noted; he also orders scrambled eggs just about everywhere he visits.

You just killed James Bond!

Compare that with the films. Perhaps the first example is in Diamonds Are Forever when when Bond travels to Amsterdam. After he kills Peter Franks, Bond switches his identity, causing Tiffany Case to exclaim, “My God! You just killed James Bond!”

“Is that who it was?”, drawls Sean Connery.

And in The Man With The Golden Gun, Bond’s reputation is such that he us drawn into tracking down Scaramanga by Andrea Anders in the hope he can save her from her life as a virtual slave.

There must be many more examples but in Die Another Day, when Bond swims ashore in Hong Kong after escaping from the MI6 ship, he walks into a hotel where the manager not only knows his name but also what champagne he drinks.

Perhaps the real reason for M’s exasperation with Bond in the films was that he (and later she) realized how much of a security risk Bond posed. Secret agent? Not on your life.

007 as a household name

Thankfully with the reboot things have got more sensible again and not only is Bond unknown, but he is given a cover name in Casino Royale.

However, the idea of him being well known originates with Ian Fleming, despite Bond being apprehensive of recognition at Miami airport; Bond’s premature obituary, published in You Only live Twice, refers to the books based on Bond’s life, something John Pearson attempted to explain in James Bond: The Authorised Biography.

Whether the producers picked up the idea from the books consciously or not is debatable, as it first occurred after they had dispensed with Fleming’s storylines completely. However, while the idea of Bond being an effective agent while being a household name is ridiculous, its origins do lie with Ian Fleming.

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David Leigh founded The James Bond Dossier in 2002. A fan of 007 since the age of 8, he is also author of The Complete Guide to the Drinks of James Bond. You can order a copy here if you don't own it already.

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  • Rhett

    To be fair to DAD (which pains me to do as it’s the least redeemable Bond film, imo), the hotel manager knows Bond, not what Bond does for a living. The same kind of thing happens in TLD. It isn’t unreasonable to expect a successful world traveler would have certain regular haunts across the globe where the staff remember him and his special needs. Although this too (being remembered) is antithetical to the whole secret (invisible) spy ethic.